Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Wells Cathedral (Part One).

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Fan-Vaulting in
Wells Cathedral.

The West Front of Wells Cathedral,
Wells, Somerset, England.
Photo: 30 April 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
(Wikimedia Commons)

Wells Cathedral is a Church of England place of worship in Wells, Somerset, dedicated to Saint Andrew the Apostle, and is the Seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

As with other Cathedrals, it is the Mother Church of the Diocese and contains the Bishop's Throne (Cathedra). The present building dates from 1175 to 1490, an earlier Church having been built on the site in 705 A.D. It is moderately-sized among the Mediaeval Cathedrals of England, falling between those of massive proportion, such as Lincoln Cathedral and York Minster, and the much smaller Cathedrals of Oxford and Carlisle.

With its broad West Front and large Central Tower, it is the dominant feature of its small Cathedral City and a landmark in the Somerset countryside. Wells has been variously described as "unquestionably one of the most beautiful" and as "the most poetic" of English Cathedrals.

Wells Cathedral,
shown in the reflecting pool
of the Bishop's Palace.
Photo: 6 December 2013.
Source: Own work.
Author: Rodw.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The architecture of the Cathedral presents a harmonious whole, which is entirely Gothic and mostly in a single style, the Early English Gothic of the Late-12th- and Early-13th-Centuries. In this, Wells Cathedral differs from most other English Mediaeval Cathedrals, which have parts in the earlier Romanesque architectural style, introduced to Britain by the Normans in the 11th-Century.

Work on the Cathedral commenced in about 1175, at the Eastern End, with the building of the Choir. The historian John Harvey considers this to be the first truly Gothic structure in Europe, having broken from the last constraints of Romanesque. The stonework of its Pointed Arcades and Fluted Piers is enriched by the complexity of the pronounced Mouldings and vitality of the Carved Capitals, in a Foliate Style known as "Stiff Leaf".

The Exterior has an Early English façade, displaying more than three hundred sculpted figures, and described by Harvey as "the supreme triumph of the combined plastic arts in England". The Eastern End retains much ancient Stained-Glass, which is rare in England.

Visit Wells Cathedral,
Somerset, England.
Available on YouTube at

Unlike the many English Cathedrals of Monastic Foundation, Wells Cathedral has an exceptional number of surviving Secular Buildings associated with its Chapter of Secular Canons, such as the Bishop's Palace and the Vicars' Close, a residential street which has remained intact from the 15th-Century. The Cathedral is a Scheduled Monument and is designated by English Heritage as a Grade I Listed Building.

The earliest remains of a building on the site are of a Late-Roman Mausoleum, identified during excavations in 1980. An Abbey Church was built in Wells, in 705 A.D., by Aldhelm, first Bishop of the newly-established Diocese of Sherborne, during the reign of King Ine of Wessex.

It was dedicated to Saint Andrew and stood at the present site of the Cathedral's Cloisters, where some excavated remains can be seen. The Baptismal Font, in the Cathedral's South Transept, is from this Church and is the oldest part of the present building. In 766 A.D., Cynewulf, King of Wessex, signed a Charter endowing the Church with eleven Hides of land. In 909 A.D., the Seat of the Diocese was moved from Sherborne to Wells.

The Great West Door,
Wells Cathedral.
Photo: 2 July 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Lamiai.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The first Bishop of Wells was Athelm (909 A.D.), who crowned King Æthelstan. Athelm and his nephew, Dunstan, both became Archbishops of Canterbury. During this period, a Choir of boys was established to sing the Liturgy. Wells Cathedral School, which was established to educate these Choir boys, dates its Foundation to this point. There is, however, some controversy over this. Following the Norman Conquest, Bishop John de Villula moved the Seat of the Bishop from Wells to Bath in 1090. The Church at Wells, no longer a Cathedral, had a College of Secular Clergy.

The Cathedral is thought to have been conceived and commenced in about 1175, by Bishop Reginald FitzJocelin, who died in 1191. Although it is clear from its size that, from the outset, the Church was planned to be the Cathedral of the Diocese, the Seat of the Bishop moved between Wells and the Abbeys of Glastonbury and Bath, before settling at Wells.

In 1197, Bishop Reginald's successor, Bishop Savaric FitzGeldewin, with the approval of Pope Celestine III, officially moved his Seat to Glastonbury Abbey. The Title of Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury was used until the Glastonbury claim was abandoned in 1219.

Deutsch: Kathedrale in Wells, Sommerset.
English: Wells Cathedral, Somerset.
The Choir Stalls with 19th-Century
Stone Canopies and modern embroideries.
Photo: May 2013.
Source: Own work.
Author: Karl Gruber.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Bishop Savaric's successor, Jocelin of Wells, again moved the Bishop's Seat to Bath Abbey, with the Title "Bishop of Bath". Jocelin was a brother of Bishop Hugh II of Lincoln and was present at the signing of Magna Carta. Bishop Jocelin continued the building campaign, begun by Bishop Reginald, and was responsible for the Bishop's Palace, the Choristers' School, a Grammar School, a hospital for travellers and a Chapel.

He also had a Manor House built at Wookey, near Wells. Jocelin saw the Church dedicated in 1239, but, despite much lobbying of the Pope by Jocelin's representatives in Rome, did not live to see Cathedral status granted. The delay may have been a result of inaction by Pandulf Masca, a Roman Ecclesiastical Politician, Papal Legate to England and Bishop of Norwich, who was asked by the Pope to investigate the situation but did not respond.

Jocelin died at Wells, on 19 November 1242, and was buried in the Choir of the Cathedral; The Memorial Brass on his tomb is one of the earliest Brasses in England. Following his death, the Monks of Bath unsuccessfully attempted to regain authority over Wells.

Wells Cathedral.
Photo: 6 December 2013.
Source: Own work.
Author: Rodw.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In 1245, the dispute over the Title of the Bishop was resolved by a ruling of Pope Innocent IV, who established the Title as the "Bishop of Bath and Wells", as it has remained until this day, with Wells Cathedral as the Principal Seat of the Bishop.


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